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sales director, IDIS Europe

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Jamie Barnfield brings with him nearly 20 years' sales experience in the security industry across IP-enabled video surveillance and security solutions as well as traditional CCTV systems. He has held sales management positions at The Solutions Group, March Networks, Silent Witness, and at Risco Group. Jamie joined IDIS in April 2013 and is responsible for value-add solution sales to support IDIS installers and integrators, as well as end-user sales from small businesses through to enterprise-sized organizations from a wide range of markets and environments.
May 28, 2020

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Retail security

How retailers can survive in a new world of risks

What’s next for retail in a post COVID-19 world? And how can businesses utilise technology from the security sector to promote safe working practices for staff and customers? Jamie Barnfield, Sales Director for IDIS Europe, offers his thoughts.

Retailing is tough business at the best of times, but the pandemic has increased the pressure off the scale.

Fashion stores have been badly hit by the lockdown, reporting huge drops in sales, even those with robust online offerings. In the three months to the end of April, for example, Next saw sales fall by 32%. And speaking at the release of Marks and Spencer’s full year results in May, CEO Steve Rowe said customers “may never shop the same way again”.

He predicted that the “effects and aftershocks” of the lockdown would last for the next year and beyond.


“Whilst some customer habits will return to normal, others have changed forever.”

And that’s without even taking account of the economic downturn, which most now believe will be steeper and more sustained than the ‘V-shaped’ dip previously hoped for. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has warned of a severe recession in the UK “the likes of which we haven’t seen”, with a period of mass unemployment.

So, with shops now re-opening from the middle of next month, how can retailers adapt their stores, and their security operations, to this new reality? And how can they do it in a financially sustainable way?

On May 11 the Government issued its ‘working safely’ guidance for employers, employees and the self-employed in the retail sector (subsequently updated), with measures including those previously advocated by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the shop workers’ union USDAW.

These measures include limiting the number of entry and exit points, keeping fitting rooms closed, restricting customer seating, using one-way systems, quarantining  returns for 72 hours, erecting protective barriers at checkouts, and limiting the number of customers coming into stores.

Lessons have been learned from grocery stores, supermarkets, banks, chemists, and other outlets that stayed open during the weeks of lockdown. At these locations it was found that clear signposting outside and inside stores, alongside increased security staff presence at store entrances, really worked. These measures were tested, improved and rolled-out as the emergency unfolded, and allowed businesses to adapt and ensure safe occupancy levels.

But planning for the tough times ahead, the costs of paying staff to stand at entrances to control access, person by person, will just not be sustainable for many. So, retailers are evaluating technology as an alternative. Businesses will be understandably reluctant to bear the cost of employing additional highly skilled SIA licensed security officers to fulfil this objective long term. And they should be mindful the increased duty of care measures that security staff in front line roles are now owed, given their increased vulnerability, as starkly revealed by analysis of occupations with the highest mortality risks during the pandemic.

And they are looking for solutions that won’t impact on the customer experience and that will encourage consumers to fall in love with shopping again.

Security technology coming to the fore

There are some smart, and sophisticated cloud-based and server-based solutions out there, but for the time being these are beyond the budgets of many retailers,  and beyond their current bandwidth too – new and evolving technology needs time and careful consideration to implement, but the need now is for fast, effective solutions to get businesses through the next 18 months.

The best fit for this immediate term will be low-cost stand-alone solutions that work independently of IT or cloud infrastructures. A number are now being offered and are designed to be easily mounted at store entrances to detect and count people entering and leaving.  These solutions offer the advantages of rapid set up, and they work straight away to provide clear visual alerts when occupancy limits are reached.

In addition, some of these systems don’t require cameras, so they have the advantage of being fast to install and it means they protect the anonymity and privacy of customers, whilst still providing accurate real time data about how many people are in the premises. They can also be set up to distinguish staff from customers, so they give an accurate picture of what’s going on.

Replacing the temporary printed or hand-written signs that were widespread at the start of the pandemic, such solutions can be used with display screens at entrances to invite customers to come in or wait until it’s safe to enter. These can include a traffic light type system, as well as the ability to display other information such as occupancy levels that will help to keep customers informed and feeling protected.

AV kiosks with added hand sanitizers are another innovation worth looking at – making it easy for customers to protect themselves and others – and read safety and promotional information while they wait for their turn to enter the store.

It’s exactly this sort of technology that retailers will be looking to for increased control over store occupancy in the future, not just to keep customers safe, but to make them feel comfortable and happy to return to their much-loved high-street stores.

If the expected recession really does bite it will be a question of ‘survival of the fittest’. Retailers in good financial health, who give customers what they want, and take advantage of efficient technology are most likely to prosper. The weaker players – already hit by falling sales, intense competition, and rising costs – have and will continue to fall by the wayside.

And it’s worth remembering, the improved safety and hygiene measures being developed now may have to be kept in place for longer than we might like to think. It’s possible that COVID-19 will change shoppers’ habits and expectations permanently, and that businesses will have to prioritise infection control in the future, just as they now plan for shrinkage, fire, and cyber security risks.

In that case, it will be worth looking for flexible solutions that can be adapted to future use.

The challenge from online shopping is still urgent, and it will continue to be so. To make bricks and mortar successful, retailers will need to better understand customer behaviour, and to meet this challenge intelligent video analytics that benefit from AI algorithms is the most logical and cost-effective step. A massive benefit is that it offers a cost-effective way of leveraging existing surveillance investments to increase understanding of customer responses, and to fill gaps in intelligence. For example, it makes it easy to analyse footfall and dwell time, and link to point of sale information and other data such as weather information, to monitor how it all impacts buying behaviour.

This level of insight will allow retailers to improve the shopping experience, for example by anticipating customer demand for specific goods, improving store layouts, better positioning promotions, reducing queues or knowing when, in the customer journey through the store, it’s best to have staff intervene to assist with product choice and advice.

Already, shopping centres and retailers can benefit from IDIS Deep Learning Analytics (IDLA) that detect, identify, and classify people and vehicles. Importantly, IDIS AI algorithms are proving 98% accurate, which means operators are not frustrated with false positive alerts, the blight of many existing onboard analytics which are caused by environment factors. In effect, IDLA ignores video noise and allows control room staff to be far more efficient in responding to a genuine intruder or suspicious behaviour, such as loitering, to stay one step ahead of criminal activity.

These capabilities might not seem like the priority right now, but as retailers come through this tough period, and once they’ve overcome the infection control challenge, it’s certain that they’ll need to become smarter, more agile and operationally efficient.

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